BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres can count on captain Kyle Okposo’s leadership for at least another NHL season.
Okposo re-signed with Buffalo on a one-year contract worth $2.5 million on Wednesday, the team announced.
The 35-year-old winger was set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer following the expiration of a seven-year deal with an average annual value of $6 million. Maturing into a respected figure in Buffalo’s during locker room several tumultuous seasons before being named the 20th full-time captain in Sabres history, Okposo indicated at season’s end that Buffalo would be the only team he would continue his career with.
“But if I were to walk away and be done, I think I left here better than I found it,” Okposo told reporters the day after the Sabres came within one victory of making the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons and ending the longest postseason drought in NHL history.
“There’s nowhere else that I would want to be,” Okposo said. “I’ve put a lot of effort and energy in here and this is where I want to be.”
Okposo had 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 75 games of the 2022-23 season, his 16th in the NHL. He has 223 points (91 goals, 132 assists) in 455 games with the Sabres since signing as a free agent in 2016 following nine years with the New York Islanders.
“It’s hard to overstate how much he means to the group,” forward Jeff Skinner said. “I can’t think of a better role model for these young guys in how he goes about his business and how he treats everyone else.”
“Every guy in the room will say he’s obviously the rock of our team, he’s the leader,” center Casey Mittelstadt said. “I think for me personally, he’s just always there for you. There’s nothing more you can really ask for. He’s always got your back, whatever you need, you can always call Okie. He’s a pretty special guy.”
Okposo’s new contract includes a $500,000 incentive for winning the Stanley Cup, according to CapFriendly.com.
“I can’t say enough good things about him as a person, what he’s done in the locker room, the way he carries the message from (Sabres coach) Donny (Granato) and the coaching staff through to the team, his selflessness, to be able to mentor and bring along players,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said after the season. “I see it over and over again, day after day, players are down, whatever’s going on in their life, they’re talking to him. And I just think it’s we’re lucky to have him.”
Despite extending an NHL-worst playoff drought to a 12th season, the Sabres fell two point short of making the playoffs and finished with 42 wins and 91 points — their most since last making the playoffs in 2011.
“I’m extremely proud to be a part of this group and to see how far we’ve come. We’ve become a team,” Okposo said after Buffalo was eliminated with two games left.
“And that’s the first time in a long time that I think we can say that about our squad here,” he added. “It was extremely gratifying in a way, but at the same time extremely disappointing with how it ended.”
Okposo was credited for providing guidance and serving as the voice of a team that began the season with the NHL’s youngest roster. He was appointed captain to start this season after serving as an alternate in 2021-22 when Buffalo stripped Jack Eichel of the captaincy before finally trading him to Vegas.
Where other players wanted out of Buffalo because of the Sabres’ losing track record, Okposo expressed a desire to stay because of the promise he saw in a team that features young and up-and-coming stars such as Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power.
From Minnesota, Okposo spent his first nine seasons with the New York Islanders before signing with Buffalo in free agency in July 2016. At the time, Okposo viewed the Eichel-led Sabres as becoming contenders.
Though the team never played to its potential, Okposo eventually adopted Buffalo as a permanent home.
He’s continued playing despite having his career nearly sidetracked by several injuries scares.
Okposo endured a rash of concussions, experiencing four over a three-year stretch from 2017-’19. It’s a span that included such severe concussion-related symptoms that he spent nearly a week in Buffalo General Hospital’s Neuro Surgical ICU after he began losing weight and experienced difficulty sleeping following a routine hit in practice.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.